Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power
Episodes 1 & 2
(Amazon Prime, 2022)
Reviewed by Steven Poore
Prime is spoiling us: after the modern revision of The Wheel of Time, a second season of which has just finished shooting, it’s the turn of the foundational canon that Robert Jordan riffed off so successfully in the earlier books of that series to be adapted for the small screen. The world of Middle Earth is ripe for mining after all, as the Dwarves of Khazad-Dhum knew so well. But is a journey through Tolkien’s epic sandpit justifiably recommended, or is it just another case of Epic Pooh?
Viewers who have sat through the extended versions of The Hobbit film trilogy can be excused for a certain wariness in approaching this adaptation of myths, tales and back-story that originates from The Silmarillion and other Second Age writings, especially since the licence for the production actually excludes The Silmarillion itself and the creative team have been required to bridge between references in the LoTR appendices to fill out the story. It’s almost fair to say that The Rings of Power is as “inspired by” Tolkien’s work as was The Wheel of Time.
The first episode opens, unpromisingly, with an exposition-heavy sequence introducing Galadriel’s (Morfydd Clark) quest to hunt down Sauron and her friendship with Elrond (Robert Aramayo). Then in an abrupt but welcome change of tone, we spy upon a tribe of wandering Harfoots (or Harfeet?), proto-Hobbits making merry upon the land, and we also meet a stern but impetuous Elf named Arondir (Ismael Cruz Cordova) who might have been fraternising with the humans of the Southlands a little too much. In these latter narratives, there’s a lot more colour and characterisation work in evidence, while Galadriel’s thread carries the main story of the Second Age. There are undercurrents of a threat already, though they are few and far between – a glimpse of a wolf, a fiery sigil, the attack by an ice troll.
These threads come closer to the forefront in the second episode, however, heralded by the arrival of a Stranger (Daniel Weyman) falling from the sky like a shooting star. Weyman’s spot-on portrayal of a confused celestial wizard counterpoints nicely against the befuddled rustic nature of the Harfoots and gives us an intimation of why Gandalf returned to the Shire so often. There’s a solid scare scene involving villager Bronwyn (Nazanin Boniadi) and an intruder in her house. Galadriel meanwhile, caught between Elven honour, politics, and her vow to avenge her brother, Finrod, has turned away from the promised land of the West to return to Middle Earth, certain that Sauron still lives and plots war. And Elrond makes a house call to the kingdom of Dwarves, where we see Khazad-Dhum in all its pomp and glory. Even here there are secrets hidden in the depths of the mines…
If the LotR films felt fresh and invigorated, all sweeping vistas and careful production, and the Hobbit films were a triumph of CGI-crunching and noise-over-story, then Rings of Power falls comfortably on the right side of the line. It isn’t doing anything astoundingly new, but it does it with a fair approximation of the style of the original film trilogy. It also works well in episodic chunks, and some thought has plainly gone into the created characters and storylines so that they work within Tolkien’s world. As with The Wheel of Time, this is very much a case of knowing that a “pure and faithful adaptation” would be long-winded and deathly dull. And just as with that latter series, the showrunners have wisely kept clear of marquee cast names – Lenny Henry is perhaps the most recognisable, playing the Harfoot elder Sadoc with the gravitas of a man who can see bad times coming from the East.
On the strength of the first two episodes, The Rings of Power is well worth the massive investment on Amazon’s part and definitely worth including on your watchlist.